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Automation can curb finance burnout

Faced with recent layoffs, economic headwinds and a documented shortage of upcoming accountants, talent retention challenges remain a main concern for finance leaders, a study by spend optimization platform Emburse found.

Focusing on digital transformation efforts could help finance leaders better tackle talent challenges, removing time-consuming tasks from employees’ workloads while also helping them drive further value for the business, said Adriana Carpenter, CFO for Emburse.

“It’s become such a catchphrase, but it absolutely is critical, not just for the success of the business, but for the success of your employees,” she said in an interview on the importance of digital transformation.

Market challenges still topped CFOs’ concerns, narrowly beating out process and talent worries, but finding and retaining skilled finance employees remains a source of worry for leadership especially as they manage through economic uncertainty. Nearly all — 95% — want to avoid drastic layoffs or changes to their department structure, Emburse found, and instead are looking to automate previously manual processes to help ease employees’ workloads.

One out of four finance leaders said talent was their top worry, the survey of 400 finance leaders found, a number that shoots up for large organizations or those with more than 1,000 employees, 32% of which said it was a prominent concern. Offering competitive benefits and keeping new-hire salaries on par with those of existing employees emerged as the two top challenges faced by leadership regarding their talent woes.

Bringing in technology like automation can be a prime tool to maintain the satisfaction level of finance employees, who are typically the ones faced with providing the data and insights organizations need to weather economic storms.

Ongoing market pressures as well as the rise of remote work has also broadened employees’ sphere of opportunities, Carpenter said, making it easier for workers to move into totally new fields. This only increases the challenge of retaining top talent. Unlike in the past, she said, “you can’t just throw a little more money” at employees to tackle these challenges.

Indeed, 48% of finance leaders said seeing their employees leave the finance industry entirely was their top retention challenge, according to a recent press release.

Those in the financial service industry especially face losing employees to retirement, a keen problem as the accounting industry grapples with a continuing shortage of graduates. The lure of shinier, tech-forward jobs has caused a slump in those pursuing accounting careers, with many top accounting firms looking overseas for talent, CFO Dive previously reported.

Failing to adequately prioritize digital transformation can exacerbate this issue by turning off new generation talent while placing an increasing burden on the backs of the employees already there.

For many in the finance space, “we’re not investing fast enough in automation, we’re not investing fast enough in data and intelligence,” Carpenter said. “And so what are these finance professionals doing? They are stuck working in spreadsheets … and it creates an environment in which they never have the right data at the right time to provide the right insight to drive enough value.”

This “creates a lot of discontent from an employee perspective because they don’t feel that they can be successful in that type of environment,” she said.

Bringing in automation and other emerging technologies can ease strained workloads, helping employees avoid burnout and giving them the tools they need to generate that value. Companies don’t have to start with the multimillion dollar tech stack, Carpenter said — begin with a reasonable one that enables good returns.

“If you’re not improving, all you’re doing is throwing headcount at the issue,” she said. “There is no way out of this problem without pausing, investing in [and] building the right tool set and the right technology stack, and moving forward from there.”

Finance leaders are beginning to look at automation more closely as a retention tool: 35% pointed to improvement of the employee experience as a top motivator for integrating automation, coming in just below the 38% who cited overall improvement of business performance as their prime motivator, according to Emburse. Only 4% of finance leaders said they had no automation projects in the works for 2023, signaling just how popular and potentially critical such technologies are becoming.

“I would say you’re not going to keep top talent if you don’t invest in the tech,” Carpenter said. “It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. So to some extent, you need to invest in the tech in order to make an environment in which top performers want to stay.”


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